Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Time Is the Tea Kettle?


So I'm not much into promotion, even self-promotion; however, when I have a new product out, I figure I ought to at least mention it. Speaking of which, my new thing is out! Actually, it's two things. Two novelettes about the same character and his cat. I posted an excerpt from it quite a while back on a different site, so I'll give you that same taste in a moment. I'd call this new story whimsical. Definitely offbeat.

Bryan Pedas, from A Beer for the Shower, put together the spectacular cover, and I think he captured the feel of the story pretty well. He called it "absurdist" rather in the same vein as Carroll's Wonderland. Did you know that there's no real category for that? Well, there's not.

Briane Pagel, who also got an early look, said it's "perfect."

And my students, who also got to hear the excerpt, can't wait to find out what happens to Jeffry and what's up with the tea kettle.

I'm just going to say it: If you've liked anything I've written, this is one you should read.

PLUS! Not only do you get "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?" but you also get "Soul Cakes"! A second novelette featuring Jeffry and his owner. That's two for the price of one! Seriously, go pick up your copy, read it, love it, and leave a review!

Just to help you on the way, here is a bit of "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?"



The red tea kettle was blocking my view of the clock. It kept doing that. I sighed as I rolled over and sat up in bed. It was new and hadn't yet learned its place, so I picked it up by the handle and carried it out of the bedroom, down the darkened hall, and into the kitchen, only once stepping on one of the cat's toys, quite an accomplishment. I flicked the little stove light on and set the kettle on the counter.
What time was it again? That was when I realized that I'd forgotten to check the time after I picked up the kettle, so I glanced at the stove clock in the dim light of the kitchen to find it blocked by the red tea kettle, handle up so that I couldn't read the time. I glanced over to the counter top where I was sure I had just set it, but, yes, it was not there. I sighed again, shook my head slightly, and picked the tea kettle back up, looking for somewhere else to set it. It needed a place, its own place, to be. Maybe, then, it would quit wandering around.
I could put it in a cupboard, but that would just be inconvenient, having to get it in and out all of the time. I wanted it to live on the stove but on the burner where it wouldn't block the clock.
Oh! The clock. I wanted to know the time. I looked over at the clock, and there was the tea kettle again. Hadn't it just been in my hand? I was sure I hadn't set it down.
I reached for it again, but, at that moment, the cat floated by, ghostlike, doing whatever it is that cats do at night. He brushed my cheek with his tail as he lightly pressed one paw onto my shoulder as he passed by. Looking for flying bugs, I supposed.
His sudden spring to the ceiling almost caught me by surprise, and I saw him going for the spider in the corner where the ceiling met both walls on that side of the dining room that adjoined the kitchen.
“Geoffrey!”
The cat stiffened, caught in the act, but he couldn't stop like he would have been able to if he'd been on the floor. He looked back over his shoulder at me and “mew”ed just as he collided with the ceiling and bounced to the wall, grabbing hold with his claws.
The spider scurried into the crack where the two pieces of trim met. I could see him peeking out but was too far away to hear the cursing that I was sure was happening. Spiders like very much to curse. Most of them, anyway. Tarantulas are above that sort of thing. Or so they say.
The cat arched his back and, then, marched down the wall studiously ignoring me as I scolded him, “Geoffrey, what have I told you about the spiders? We leave the spiders alone. Spiders are good.” I spoke slowly and distinctly, as if he was hard of hearing, which, honestly, at that moment, he was.
When he got close enough, he leaped from the wall to the dining table and sat like the puff of smoke he had originally been named for.
I sighed and shook my head at the cat, thinking back to the small, gray puffball he'd been when he'd shown up on my doorstep. Like a puff of smoke when you blow out a match or a candle. All except for the toes on his front paws, which were white. I had determined to call him Smoke and actually had for a number of weeks.
Until my nephew came to visit.
He's my sister's kid. We don't ever see each other, my sister and me, unless she needs something. That particular day, she had needed me to babysit, her usual reason for seeing me, so she had dropped my nephew off at an obscene hour on a Saturday morning. A time when normal people are still sleeping. My nephew came in asking, “What's for lunch?”
I told him it was too early for lunch, to which he replied, “Actually, it's late for lunch. At school, it's already nap time.”
I grumbled and went to grub around in the kitchen and look for food.
He met the cat while I was trying to find slices of leftover pizza that I could pick enough of the mushrooms off of that it would convince him to pretend they weren't really there to begin with.
“Warm or cold?” I shouted out into the room with the TV that only worked three days a week.
“Cold's fine.”
“It's going to the table, then. Why don't you bring Smoke, and you can feed him some treats while we're eating.”
That's the great thing about pizza: I was about to have it for breakfast, and my nephew was having it for lunch, and we were both perfectly satisfied that all was right with the world with that arrangement.
He plopped the kitten down on the table in much the same spot as he was currently sitting and eyeing me sullenly for the scolding.
As I dropped several cat treats into the boy's hand, he said, “Why do you call him Smoke?”
“That's his name.”
“No, it's not.” He said it very matter-of-factly, very like when he had said, “At school, it's already nap time.”
That was annoying. I wasn't even awake yet. No pizza. No coffee. And less than four hours of sleep. “Yes, it is. I named him that.”
He looked at the cat, held out the hand with the treats, and cocked his head slightly as the cat took one and sat down with it.
“He says he already has a name, and he doesn't like Smoke.”
“What's wrong with Smoke?”
The boy shrugged, “I don't know. He says he doesn't like it.”
“Why didn't he tell me, then?” I raised one eyebrow at the kid, thinking I'd won.
He glanced back at the kitten and offered him another treat. The pizza, his slice and mine, was just sitting there on our plates waiting to be eaten, making me cranky, while my nephew chastised me on behalf of the ball of fur that looked like it was about to drift away.
“He says he did tell you. He says you don't listen.”
“I do, too, listen.” I crossed my arms, thinking back, trying to figure out if I'd been listening. I wasn't sure, and that made me more cranky, because the kid might be right.
“If you listened, you'd know his name is Jeffry.”
“Jeffry?” I blinked, stared at the kid, and picked up my slice of pizza. Just to make a statement by doing it. “What kind of name is Jeffry for a cat?”
The small shoulders of the boy shrugged as he took a bite of his pizza, “I don't know. I just know that's his name.”
I waved my pizza in the air, “I like Smoke better.”
With his mouth stuffed, barely comprehensible, he replied, “He doesn't like Smoke.”
“So. He's my cat.” I obstinately took a bite of my pizza.
The cat made a cat noise, not quite a meow, that I didn't catch. I should have, but it sounded jumbled.
After a moment of chewing, the boy said, “Jeffry says he'll call you Bob.”
“But my name's not...” I ripped a big hunk of pizza off with my teeth and sent it spluttering everywhere as I said, “Fine!” After I swallowed, I added, “Geoffrey, it is.” Internally, I smiled, knowing that neither of them could spell so couldn't tell that I had given the cat a name I wanted to give him anyway.
As the cat sat on the table and stared at me, I wasn't entirely sure he hadn't known all along. Cats always look like they have secrets, even when they don't. Who knows what was going on in that cat's head.
I saw the spider creeping back out of the crack in the ceiling, and I glanced up at it, “You leave that spider alone.”
The cat stood up, turned, and lifted its tail to me as it hopped off of the table, drifting off through the house but near the floor this time.
I stood there a moment in the arbitrary division between the kitchen and dining room completely unaware of what I was doing. Why I was up. What time it even was.
Oh! The time! I turned back to the stove, and there was the red tea kettle again blocking the clock. I grabbed the tea kettle and jerked it from the stove. 1:16 glowed dimly in green on the little panel on the back of the stove where the knobs are, and I stood there staring at the readout. I didn't even remember why I'd wanted to know what time it was. Or why I was awake...
Why was I awake? Something had woken me up. That's why I had been trying to look at the time. Oh, well. I had no idea what it was, if I had ever known at all. What I did know is that I was going back to bed.

I sighed and raised the red tea kettle up to eye level, “But what do I do with you?” I yawned, shook my head, and set the tea pot back down on the stove. I'd figure it out later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exploring Personality: A Reiteration (and a Preface)

Because there seems to be some confusion on this point, let me go back over the basis of the Enneagram again.

As a personality system, the Enneagram deals with primary motivations not behaviors. It is different from other personality profiling systems in that, because virtually every other personality system out there is based off of the Myers-Briggs to some extent, and it is a behavior based system. Yes, behaviors can change, especially over time and with maturity. That means that you may test differently on the Myers-Briggs at 40 than you did at 20. So, although the Enneagram looks at behaviors, it is not looking for behaviors, and that is a huge difference. Your primary internal motivation almost never changes. Seriously. And, no, you can't have more than one primary motivation (which is also why I hate "favorites" lists that have dozens of items on them). With the Enneagram, because it is looking past the behaviors to see what is driving them, people virtually always test the same at 40 as they did at 18. It is very rare (very) that someone's Enneagram type changes, and, if it does, it's usually because they suffered some sort of traumatic event.

Now, this does not mean that you might not get different results on an online test even from week to week, but that's because online tests are generally not very comprehensive. People want to sit down and do the thing in less than 10 minutes, so those things tend to be not very comprehensive. Added to that is the fact that people are often not very honest even with themselves or they might feel differently one day than they did the day before. A cursory 10-minute test is not going to catch those kinds of fluctuations.

However, having worked with the actual tests (the ones that take hours to complete because they have hundreds of questions) and having worked with experts who do this stuff for a living, I can speak for the veracity of the system as a whole. It's possible that personality type is fluid when you're a kid but, by the time you've made it through adolescence, your type is pretty much set. You have a primary motivation that directs the way you interact with the world. It may assert itself in different types of behaviors, mostly based upon your emotional state, but the same motivation is behind it.

And that is why this stuff works so well when developing characters for books. For making your characters believable. If you know what the motivations are for your characters, you can make them behave in believable ways. Nothing kills a book quicker than characters doing things that are, well, out of character. As I said before, "Stupidity is not the same as personality," and having a character make a stupid choice to move the plot along doesn't mean that it's a choice the character would have made. When the audience responds, "He would never have done that!" you know you've done something wrong. When they see the stupid choice coming, though, and fear it, you know you've done it right because, then, the readers are seeing the personality and the motivations of the character.

At any rate, I would suggest that you take the test, not necessarily so that you'll know what type you are, just so that you can see how it works. If you do want to know for yourself, though, be honest with your answers. I left a link to the test back in this post. If you take it, let me know what you are.

Now, on to other things! Other thing, Here's your introduction to the next triad of personality types.
Enneagram types 5, 6, and 7 make up the intellectual triad of the Enneagram. These types are data based. They are information gatherers. They tend to react to situations from a more rational viewpoint, especially when compared to the emotional triad (types 2, 3, and 4). Where other types, when asked why they did something, may say, "I don't know," the intellectuals can almost always tell you exactly why they made the decision they made and hand you the numbers to back it up. Their emotional center is fear; gathering information and making informed decisions is a way of combating that fear. The intellectuals are also attracted to ideas and ideals; relationships are less important and can sometimes be means of achieving other objectives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SQUEAK!

Some of you may have noticed that it's October. Some more of you may have even noticed that Halloween is this week. Halloween is generally the time of all things scary... Okay, maybe not all things.  Probably not even most things. A lot of things. Maybe I should start over...?

Halloween is a time we celebrate scary things... Wait. Is "celebrate" the right word there? Does anyone celebrate scary? Hmm... Okay, yeah, they do. The gravedigger down the street and his family certainly celebrate the scary. True story.

Anyway...

In honor of the "scariest" day of the year, we at Indie Writers Monthly have put together an all scare issue. Okay, well, it's not all scare, because some of it's about how to write scary things, and that part isn't all that scary. And it wasn't really "we," either, because we had a contest for scary micro-fiction, so a lot of the stories were written by them. In fact, I didn't even write one. I told my son to do it for me. The scary part was that I thought he was going to make me write it after all, because he sat and stared at the blank computer monitor for about six hours (don't worry; I'm pretty sure it's part of his process) then, just as I was about to send him to bed, he whipped out a story in about 20 minutes. Maybe 30. Of all the stories submitted, his freaked me out the most. Seriously. It caught me completely off guard and made me go "oh! ew!" Which is not to say that there aren't other freaky and scary stories in there, because there are.

So here's the October issue:
And you can pick it up here.

And just to give you a taste of what's inside, here's my son's story:

Squeak

It was too warm to sleep. I struggled with the heat: the window was open, covers were off, but it just wasn’t cool enough. I tossed and turned, attempting to find a comfortable, cool spot to sleep.

I froze. A scuffing noise sounded outside my bedroom. I don’t know why, but I was paralyzed with fear.

I slowly pushed myself out of bed. As soon as my feet touched the floor, however, the boards squeaked. I stiffened again. In the silence, the noise continued.

I inched toward my light, determined to make no sound. Once the light clicked on, I saw nothing out of place.

I started to breathe a sigh of relief but quickly drew it back as I advanced toward the door. I still didn’t know what was out there.

As the door screeched open, I cringed. A part of the hallway that my room branched off of was revealed. I saw that the culprit of the sound was only a mouse.

I let the sigh escape my lips.

The mouse turned to face the wall and started scrambling up. I watched in horrid fascination as it clung to the ceiling then dropped into my gaping mouth. It struggled and squirmed down my throat.


I had let my sigh go all too soon.

Monday, October 27, 2014

In Short Supply (a book review post)

You can see my review of part one of A Shot in the Light here.
There will be some slight spoilery-ness since this is a review of part two, but it's not going to be significant spoilery-ness. In other words, I don't think it's going to hurt anything for you to know any of what I might say in this review.
Also, I have no idea what the cover of this part has to do with this part of the story. As far as I can tell, there is no relevance. Unless I've forgotten something, but I don't think I have. Maybe I just don't understand what the picture is.

Okay, so we find out pretty much right away that there is some kind of conspiracy going on. That there is a conspiracy both helps the story and hurts it. Well, at this point, it hurts it, because it raises the "How the heck do you contrive a conspiracy to spread a deadly flu around and expect that work out?" question. Maybe, down the line, there will be an answer to that, but everything so far undermines the story's plausibility. Still, there are eight parts to go, and people do do incredibly stupid things, so I'm willing to go with that. For the moment. That there is a conspiracy helps in that it makes sense out of a few things from "A Flock of Ill Omens."

However, there is an issue from part one that carries over into this one, and it's something I have to talk about, especially in light of the current Ebola crisis. One of the things that is so far pushing the plot of A Shot in the Light (and, granted, this is only part two) is the lack of information to people. This bothered me in part one, but it's even worse in part two. There are repeated statements in the book about how there is no news getting out about how bad the flu epidemic is and how many people are dying from it (and even just in part two it's a considerable amount). The central characters (two of which are reporters) are having to do all of the research themselves. One of them even says something to the effect of how no one else in the world but her has the information that she has.

The problem, though, is that these characters in the book do almost all of their research online. Yeah, I said they are using the Internet to find all this stuff out, but the presentation is as if these people are the only ones with the skills to do this, so no one else knows what's really going on, and no one is reporting on this stuff. That includes the reporters, by the way. People are in the dark except for how things are immediately affecting them.

I just can't buy into this idea at all. It seems to me to go beyond just implausible to downright impossible. I mean, personally, I get all of my news online. All of it. Because that's what happens when you don't have TV. Okay, actually, I get some very minor parts from the radio when I'm in the car, but I don't spend a huge amount of time driving, so it is just a small portion and usually along the lines of getting the headlines, which I later read about online if I hadn't already seen it. I am not at all unique in getting the vastness of my news from the Internet, so the idea that the populace of the United States is ignorant of the extent of this flu virus in the book because there is no news of it is beyond what I can buy into. And, heck, with what we've seen of the coverage of Ebola in the US, it just heightens to me what a weak plot ploy this is.

Okay, yes, there's a conspiracy. But no conspiracy is enough to stop all the free roaming people of the Internet to talk about things. People would know what's going on.

Also, I continue to be bothered by how all of the characters have the same mannerisms. Although there are many point-of-view characters, it's like reading from the POV of the same character all the time. Even the military guy acts just like all of the women. Everything is all business all the time in the same crisp, efficient pattern. And that more than one character has thoughts of how everything is like being a spy just heightens that none of the characters have distinctive personalities.

The writing is fast paced, though, and, because of the Ebola issue, I'm interested to see where the author takes it, so I plan to keep reading. I'll read at least through part four and see how I feel at that point.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What the Pumpkins Did

First, the pumpkins did this:
Then a little of this:
And some of this:

This is what was left:
And this is what was made:
The bread:
The curry soup:
I have to add that this was a creation by me. When I told my wife what I was making, she said, "That's fine, but you don't get to be mad at me if I don't like it." She loved it. She was surprised.

The toasted seeds:
I'd never had toasted pumpkin seeds before, so I was surprised at how good these are. I'll definitely be toasting all of my pumpkin seeds from now on.

All of that, and we still have more pumpkins to use. Pie is soon to come.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Six -- "I'm special!" (an IWM post)

"You are all individuals!"
"I'm not."
--If you don't know, you don't deserve to know

The Individualist

Have you ever wondered how

Edgar Allan Poe
Virginia Woolf
Tennessee Williams
J. D. Salinger
Anne Rice
Hank Williams
Judy Garland
Bob Dylan
Paul Simon
Angelina Jolie
Johnny Depp

may all be related? Sure, I could list more people, but if those haven't hooked you, no one else will. If you want to find out what they all have in common, follow the link over to Indie Writers Monthly to find out. It's just a finger twitch away. And there are songs!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Cat Caught a Lizard, and Other Things

Oh... I can't resist mentioning the grammar in the title...
Can't... resist...

It's just that it's such a good example of using a comma for clarification of meaning, not for telling someone where to pause or take a breath. See, these two sentences mean different things:
"My cat caught a lizard and other things."
"My cat caught a lizard, and other things."
The first sentence means my cat caught other things along with the lizard, which, with my cat, could be almost anything. Actually, I think he caught a spider this morning, too.
The second means that my cat caught only a lizard and there are other things I'm going to talk about.
Commas. They're important.
And not for telling me how to breathe.

I've made no secret, even though I haven't mentioned it in a while, of my antipathy for Windows 8. It's like a book, a horrible-bad book, that your English professor wrote and then made you read as an assignment. But, not just read it, read it over and over again. And it never gets any better, just... you get used to it. But, then, he tells you that he's made it better. You know, major re-writes and edits and all of that, but people start reading it and they tell you it's pretty much just the same. Maybe worse. Definitely not better. You don't bother with the new one.

That's me and Windows 8.1. I haven't known a single person who has said to me, "Oh, yeah, you should definitely switch to 8.1. It's way better." No... Pretty much everyone has told me that it's pretty much the same. A few of said they liked it less. So my computer has been prompting me to "upgrade" to 8.1 for a while, now. Months. Every time it prompted me, I told it "no." Why bother for just more of the same. I am, at least, used to Win8.
I guess it got tired of asking.

The other night, it just up and told me, "Heya, I'm upgrading to Windows 8.1. I can do it right now, or I can do it tomorrow. When do you want that to happen?" What I wanted to tell it was "NO!" but it wouldn't let me. I tried... well, I tried all sorts of things and it wouldn't let me stop the "upgrade" even though my stuff in the "Should I upgrade?" section told me that I could opt out.

Then it told me I needed to backup all of my files, which was fine except that I couldn't. I backed up my document files, but I have all of my photos on the computer, and I didn't have anything to put them all on nor did I have time to do it by the time I realized there was no way to stop the 8.1 installation. Really, I wouldn't have had time to do it without at least a week of notice. I was pretty furious by that point. Sort of a walking rant.

When the computer finally prompted, "I'm going to install Win 8.1, right now," I thought I had beat it by simply turning the computer off... but I was wrong. An hour or so later, the prompt came up again. And I turned the computer off again. But, when I turned it back on, it said, "Screw you! I'm installing this sucker, right now!"

Have I mentioned that I hate computers? Yeah... Kind of like how I hate cars. They should just work. Period. And they should work in the way you want them to work.

Anyway...
I have Win8.1 now. Here's what's changed:

  • Everything is slower now. The computer takes longer to boot and pages take longer to load. You know, it's the heightened security or whatever.
  • I no longer have to sign out of Windows before I can turn my computer off. Seriously, why was that even a thing? So that's one positive thing, although I still have to go to the start screen to do that.
  • All of my files are now backed up to the "cloud." Because, as we have seen with the recent cloud hacking of celebrities "special" pictures, the cloud is more secure than having things just on my computer.
All of that and my cat caught a lizard. In the house. It was a western fence lizard
which I think are pretty cool because they're immune to Lyme disease. He was playing with it under the kitchen table, but I didn't pay any attention to him, because that's where he likes to play with pieces of cardboard he pulls off his scratching box or with the little strips off the Netflix envelopes. But he just kept going and going. Usually, he's only good for entertaining himself in that way for 5-10 minutes, but, once he crossed the 20 minute mark, I began to wonder what he was doing. At some point, I checked. He had a lizard. Amazingly, it was intact. Apparently, all he was doing was batting it around and throwing it in the air. However, it was still dead.
It was sad-making.

There was another thing, too, but I can't remember what it was. That's what comes of being interrupted as many times as I have. Always am. Probably, it wasn't important, and this is long enough anyway.